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Five possible landing spots for NAPA's NASCAR sponsorship in 2014

Updated on February 15, 2014
Michael Waltrip has some tough days ahead with the loss of NAPA
Michael Waltrip has some tough days ahead with the loss of NAPA
The sponsor announced on Thursday that they will be leaving MWR at the end of the season
The sponsor announced on Thursday that they will be leaving MWR at the end of the season

With a press release and a Facebook posting, NAPA Auto Parts changed the NASCAR landscape by announcing the end of their decade plus relationship with Michael Waltrip. The announcement set off a late silly season scramble as teams line up to take numbers to pitch the parts manufacturer on why they are the perfect place for NAPA to be in NASCAR. Where will NAPA be in 2014? There are a number of intriguing possibilities.


NAPA first joined up with Waltrip in 2001 when the driver began his full time run with Dale Earnhardt Inc. Unlike many sponsors, NAPA wasn't focused on Waltrip's on-track performance; he'd never won a race going into that 2001 season. The auto parts giant instead saw Waltrip's personality as the perfect way to enter stock car racing. Michael won a handful of races with NAPA on the hood (all at restrictor plate tracks). More importantly, Waltrip became the center of NAPA's marketing push. His antics were at the heart of the “NAPA Know How” commercials even after Waltrip retired from full time competition on the track.

Waltrip won four races for NAPA as a driver
Waltrip won four races for NAPA as a driver

So where does NAPA go from here? If they intend to continue full-year sponsorship at the Sprint Cup level they will need to move quickly. After all, it's late in the 2013 season. Many of the best drivers are already locked up for 2014 and beyond. The company also hasn't shown any interest in switching drivers year after year- they stuck with Waltrip in the past despite the 2007 jet fuel scandal at Daytona and declining results on the track. As a result, the next NAPA driver has to be someone that the company is comfortable with hitching their wagon to for years to come.


In looking at the drivers and teams that may be possible NAPA destinations, it's important to note a few items. First, there are still a handful of silly season moves yet to be determined. As of today, a number of drivers have yet to sign on the dotted line for next season and in most cases sponsorship is the reason why. Second, having a sponsor step up with a full season at this date might make it possible for a team to add a third or fourth car to their operation. Finally, while NAPA aligned itself with a Toyota team in MWR in the past, it's likely the company will be looking for a domestic manufacturer for a clean start. So with that being said, let's take a look into the crystal ball and see where NAPA might find itself in 2014.

Bayne won a Daytona 500 driving for the Wood Brothers
Bayne won a Daytona 500 driving for the Wood Brothers

Driver: Trevor Bayne

Team: #6 for Roush Fenway Racing

Why he makes sense: NAPA's announcement of the change specifically called out the company's belief in fair play. The clean-cut Bayne provides exactly the kind of image NAPA wants to project in the wake of the Waltrip scandal. He's also essentially a clean slate with no prior major sponsorship. NAPA can build a new marketing campaign around the young driver. Bayne also has a Daytona 500 victory to his credit, something few other candidates can offer.

Why NAPA should look elsewhere: Aside from that Daytona 500 win, Bayne has been a non-factor at the Sprint Cup level. In fact, the entire Roush Fenway team has been a step behind the other major teams. Bayne isn't a sure thing as a Sprint Cup driver and NAPA doesn't want to be in the position of having to start over a year or so from now if Bayne can't cut it on the track.

Dillon will be bringing the #3 back to the Sprint Cup next season. Could he be the next face of NAPA?
Dillon will be bringing the #3 back to the Sprint Cup next season. Could he be the next face of NAPA?

Driver: Austin Dillon

Team: #3 for Richard Childress Racing

Why he makes sense: In returning the #3 to the track next season, Dillon will be under a bright spotlight all season long. A sponsor who joins that effort will gain an incredible amount of exposure. Moreover, Dillon seems to be the real deal. He won a truck series championship last year and is in contention for the Nationwide title this year. Like Bayne, he's a young driver with virtually no prior sponsor linkage that NAPA would have to overcome. RCR may already have cobbled together a handful of sponsors for 2014 but they would gladly shift those over to Ryan Newman should NAPA be willing to commit a full season, multi-year contract.

Why NAPA should look elsewhere: Any young driver comes with a significant risk of failure to compete on the Sprint Cup level. The harsh media spotlight will only increase the pressure on Dillon. A significant number of fans are already skeptical about Dillon driving the #3 Earnhardt Sr. made famous; if he struggles, the media exposure NAPA has with the deal will ensure the company is forever linked with Dillon's failure.



Driver: David Ragan

Team: #34, Front Row Motorsports

Why he makes sense: NAPA has never spent its NASCAR dollars on the Sprint Cup superteams. Instead, they've found better value in being the sole sponsor for a mid-level team all season long. They may well see the same kind of value in Ragan. The driver is still fairly young and has the kind of personality that NAPA can market. He's also experienced enough to ensure the team isn't going to go over the cliff in making rookie mistakes. NAPA's goal in sponsoring a car is selling auto parts and Ragan can be a cost-effective way to help them do that.

Why NAPA should look elsewhere: While the results are better than they were last year, Front Row is still a bottom-tier team. They simply do not have the speed to run with NASCAR's average teams, much less the sport's elite. NAPA got a taste the past two years of seeing their car run well. They likely wouldn't be happy to take a step backwards in that respect and without question FRM is a step back from MWR on the track.

David Ragan and Front Row might provide the kind of value NAPA wants
David Ragan and Front Row might provide the kind of value NAPA wants
Dale Jr. needs a sponsor to go with their National Guard partnership. Why not NAPA?
Dale Jr. needs a sponsor to go with their National Guard partnership. Why not NAPA?

Driver: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

Why he makes sense: Earnhardt is the perfect combination of pitchman and track performance for the NAPA contract. He'll run in the top ten plenty of times over the course of a season and be in contention for a race or two. He also is an experienced pitchman who's spent much of the past few years pitching products not even on his car (Wrangler jeans, Nationwide insurance, etc.). The company is familiar with Earnhardt from Waltrip's days at DEI. They could also be a part of the team without needing to commit to a full season of sponsorship given the existing deal with the National Guard.

Why NAPA should look elsewhere: As noted before, NAPA isn't a big fan of change. With Earnhardt approaching 40, his best days are likely behind him. NAPA might well be able to follow their previous pattern and eventually move to an Earnhardt driver at JR Motorsports. But why sign up with someone whose star is fading when so many up and coming drivers are available?


Driver: Sam Hornish

Team: #12, Penske Racing

Why he makes sense: His first shot at the Sprint Cup level didn't go so well, but Sam Hornish has shown over this past Nationwide season that he's ready to try it again. He's leading laps and running up front against the entire Nationwide field (plus several Sprint Cup regulars) on a weekly basis. He's also bringing the car home in one piece, something he struggled with before. NAPA would also likely love a partnership with Penske given the number of dealerships the Captain controls. It's the same reason why Shell-Pennzoil came over from RCR in 2011 despite having great success on track with Kevin Harvick at RCR.

Why NAPA should look elsewhere: Penske has long said that he's perfectly happy running a two car operation. He's had opportunities in the past to expand to three and has made zero effort to explore them. As a Fortune 400 member, it's not lack of resources holding the team back. Penske believes the operation is at its best as a two car entry and it would take a fairly significant check from NAPA to change his mind. It's probably not worth the effort on NAPA's part- particularly for such a hot and cold driver.

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Now it's your turn!

Where will NAPA Auto Parts be in 2014?

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      Michael hall 4 years ago

      Napa should stick with Truex, and take over the lower series alla nationwide! It would be great exposure in both codices. I think Truex was unfairly railroaded out of something he had nothing to do with. Also he's a really stand up guy!

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      Sherry : Jersey Strong 4 years ago

      I think Napa should stick with Martin Truex Jr and follow him to furniture row. They know he was not part of what happened and he has been a good spokes person and image for them.

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      Jeff88 4 years ago

      The Dale Earnhardt Jr. Option is just too good for NAPA not to do. They would be hitching their wagon to NASCAR's most popular driver, most high profile pitchman, and most recognizable driver as it applies to the non-NASCAR public. All of those things are a sponsor's dreams. (imagine Dale themed commercials and in-store advertising!) Also, Hendrick is one of NASCAR's 2 most stable and prosperous race teams. So it just makes sense. And all of Jr.'s other sponsors could easily be moved to the 24 and 5. If Earnhardt isn't NAPA's option, then look for them to sit out a year and returning in 2015 as the sponsor of the NASCAR NAPA National Series to replace the NAPA Nationwide Series. NAPA may be more agreeable to that situation in that they link themselves to the NASCAR brand rather than one driver or team.

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      Red 4 years ago

      I think NAPA will end up at Joe Gibbs Racing

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      Russ 4 years ago

      I would think NAPA is gone for the foreseeable future. Like itor not the whole sport not just MWR is tainted.

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      RCR Fan 4 years ago

      Now that Nationwide Insurance has pulled out as series sponsor, the NASCAR NAPA Series has a really nice ring to it.

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      Mike Roush 4 years ago from Newark, DE

      Ronnie, stranger things have happened. But if NAPA is looking to make a clean break they will want a completely new driver and team. Moreover Tried has never been the focus of their ads; Waltrip has. I don't think they will follow Truex at this point (although I'd be happy to be proven wrong as Truex has suffered the most while doing the least in all this)

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      Buffalo Anderson 4 years ago

      I hate to say it but I think out of NASCAR will be the choice.

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      ronnie78 4 years ago

      I think you forgot a real possibility and that is Martin Truex leaving mwr for FRR and bringing Napa with him. Napa wouldn't have to remarket with another driver. After getting beat head to head with Kurt i believe Martin knows it's a really good ride in the 78 he will be taking.... I think my thought has more possibility then your 5 combined.

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      Shane O 4 years ago

      What about sponsoring a series? NAPA Grand National Series??